Rot Gut, Domestic
(Mariel Recording Company)
US: 20 Mar 2012
UK: 20 Mar 2012
For lack of a more clever word, Rot Gut, Domestic, the fourth studio album from Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s rocks, and that’s not something I thought I would ever write about Margot, a group whose roots are more orchestral indie pop than anything else. Rot Gut, Domestic carries a coarser, grainier sound than previous albums, like a layer of wet sand heaped on and massaged into their typically sweeter sound.
That’s not a complaint; Rot Gut, Domestic succeeds because its tone is so dark, its bitter lyrics and gravelly guitars completely at home, as if these tales of the lovelorn and self-hating were produced by Jack White with a healthy injection of Black Keys. This new approach works, but Margot’s ability to tone it down and provide clear, evocative stories is still on display. In fact, the few softer moments are made all the more memorable by the juxtaposition between sonic poles. In other words: Rot Gut, Domestic is paced really well, and the 12 tracks fly by.
Richard Edwards’ songwriting has gained some bile while retaining the eye for devastating detail that typified great early Margot songs. “I’ve got books about trains / And a highway of board games to play when I’m sick,” Edwards growls on “Books About Trains”, which sounds like Margot’s approximation of Led Zeppelin via Neva Dinova. On “Shannon”, the protagonist is a self-destructive woman with lyrical finger jabs such as, “I wanna have your babies, and take your last name / But I’m probably gonna just get drunk, Shannon,” where the last word is hurled like the cruelest invective. The addition of a venomous Emily Watkins, whose vocal contributions album-wide are well-placed and effective, screaming “That doesn’t work!” over the chorus sends a shiver down your spine.
With the reverb and bile turned up, some of the nuance and charm of old tracks like “A Sea Shanty of Sorts” and “A Children Crusade on Acid” is lost, but there are there enough stylistic shifts that the album doesn’t feel monotonous. “A Journalist Falls In Love” borders on alt-country with another female protagonist chanting “Goodbye my grim reaper prince” as her death row inmate boyfriend is executed in front of her. “Frank Left” uses a snare drum that sounds as though it’s being kissed by a drum stick, and the album ends with a piano ballad called “Christ” that is no less lacking in bitterness for its rich chords and knelling bell: “Mary, steal the car / Drive it off with the carnival l/ I could pray, I could beg you to stay / But I won’t.”
Whereas 2006’s The Dust of Retreat began like an acoustic Postal Service track, Rot Gut, Domestic begins like a fuzzed out Cold War Kids B-side and hardly lets up over 43 minutes. It’s a striking change of pace even for a band that specializes in switching gears at will. But if Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s have proven one thing, it is that they treat genres like jackets. Next time around, who knows what they’ll be wearing.